John Howard, 29 July: “We are not going to cut wages, we’re not trying
to destroy people’s conditions. We’re not trying to chisel them out of
Anzac Day and Christmas Day and Public Holidays. I mean that is
absolute nonsense and when they see the legislation they’ll know what
nonsense it is.”

No-one expects the whole truth from John Howard. But this one’s a
whopper. Just how did he expect to get away with trading off public
holidays in his IR revolution – while telling everyone Anzac Day and
Christmas Day and Easter were safe?

Now we’ve seen the legislation and the government is, indeed, about to
chisel us out of our public holidays, it will be interesting to see how
Howard tries to escape his dilemma. Especially now the tabloids have
got hold of the story: ‘Holidays on the bargaining table.’

Which is magnified by today’s evidence that when it comes to IR, Joe Public trusts the Labor Party, not the Government.

Today’s Newspoll underlines what we already knew: “Labor is
embarking on one of its biggest industrial relations campaigns in
decades, with the strongest level of public support on record,” as
Dennis Shanahan puts it.

What’s more: Labor now has even greater support on industrial relations
than during the days of the wages accord under the Hawke Government.
Now that’s news.

So Labor and the unions already have the high moral ground on this
totemic issue. And all the Government’s taxpayer-funded Pollyanna ads
are unlikely to convince electors otherwise.

Especially if the Prime Minister insists on gilding the lily on an
issue that affects voters’ back pockets. Perhaps it’s time for a new
tack from the Government’s propaganda unit. Maybe even a little
honesty?

As Alan Wood asks in today’s Australian: “John Howard? Launching an
attack on middle Australia and working families? As the Prime Minister
asked quite reasonably on Sunday: ‘Why would I want to cut the living
standards of Australians?’ Even a Mark Latham would hesitate to take
that on, let alone a politician as wily, cautious and pragmatic as
Howard.”

Still, the wily, cautious and pragmatic PM is now caught in a major problem of perceptions. And he’s only got himself to blame.

Peter Fray

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